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4 Ways to Master your First-Time Manager Role #LikeABoss

4 Ways to Master your First-Time Manager Role #LikeABoss

Your first management opportunity — congrats! Managing people is one of the most important skills you'll need as you progress in your career, and getting a company or manager to take a chance on you when you don't have any prior management experience is a big accomplishment. What you may not realize is that even if you are still in the same "role" as before, it has just changed drastically. The objective of this article is to help you navigate the transition from superstar individual contributor to rock-star girl boss. Here are four ways to master your first management role.

[Related: 3 Ways To Become The Intern Supervisor You Dreamed Of Having]

1. Provide Structure

Acting nonchalant about management responsibilities is probably the most common new-manager faux-pas, and, in my honest opinion, it's the worst mistake you can make. Particularly when you're first starting out (and your team is likely small, maybe even just one direct report), it can feel silly to put formal meetings in place. But even with only one team member it is super important to have structure. You may feel uncomfortable or awkward, particularly if your new report is someone who used to be your peer, but this is critical to your success and your team's. So put the structure in place and fake it 'til you make it. What do you need exactly?

  • Weekly "one-on-one" meetings with each member of your team. Even if you are in cubes next to each other and talk constantly about work progress throughout the day, do this. Use it to discuss day-to-day project updates and bigger picture goals.
  • If you have more than one direct report, hold a weekly team meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to accomplish goal #2: Set the tone, communicate the vision, and give a broader perspective on how the work your team is doing fits into the priorities of the larger organization.

2. Set The Tone

Culture. Is anything more important for team productivity? Well, you are now in charge of creating it. Your tone and attitude will have a big impact on morale and employee engagement your team. No matter how small your team is, you should have a vision for it. When I first had the opportunity to manage two new associates, I wrote out a description of the reputation I wanted our group to have – essentially what I wanted us to be known for. Our reputation, I explained, was that we were hard working and diligent. Partners knew that if a project was in our hands it would be done well. I wanted to build excitement - yes, this was the best team to be on and we were all (myself included) proud to be part of it. Admittedly, it felt a little awkward to tell these two individuals this grand vision with a straight face the first time. But it was important for them to feel like they were part of something bigger. With clearly articulated goals, they knew what we were working toward, and that makes any team so much more effective.

3. Be Accountable

It is insanely important to the psyche of your team that they know their fate is in capable and responsible hands. While in the moment it may seem easier to blame someone above you when you deliver a tough message (such as a low review rating, a less-than-stellar bonus, being passed over for a certain project assignment), your team needs to believe that you are in control of the situation. And guess what? You are! You are responsible for advocating for your team members in those situations. If someone deserves a plum new project or a promotion, you have to go get it for them. Make your case. If they don’t deserve it, explain what they need to do better. When you deliver bad news, always own it.

[Related: Bad Bosses Exist — Choose to Learn from the Good Ones]

4. Manage Performance

My guess is that of all the advice in this list, this is one thing you already knew you needed to do. So let's talk about how to do it well. For starters, one of the most impactful pieces of advice I got from one of my favorite managers was: fair does not mean equal. Trying to make everything a fair split between members of your team is the most unfair thing you can do. People are unique. You need to adapt your style to your team members and learn what motivates each as an individual. Think about what projects will play to their strengths and where there are opportunities for them to work on their individual goals. You'll also need to figure out what motivates your people. Giving top-performers visibility opportunities, positive accolades in front of your management chain, and more responsibility will keep them striving to do more. And at all levels of performance, make sure that you are making feedback a regular part of your 1:1 meetings. It's good for employees to know in real-time what they are doing well and what they need to work on developing further. This also ensures that no one is blindsided during formal performance reviews, which is another big no-no.

The common theme across all four of these tips? Recognizing the power of being in a leadership position and owning it. You've done your homework — now make like Khaleesi and lead, girl!


Jessica S. Desjardins is an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management where she is changing the way financial advisors interact with the firm and their clients through technology. Jessica is part of the leadership team for Ellevate New York where she runs programming for Young Professionals, creating opportunities for young women to connect in authentic ways over relevant career topics and become a little braver in the process.

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